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We are all the products of the times we are born into, but we are not always helpless to them. The story of Brigitte ‘Biddy’ Mason demonstrates just this– an extraordinary determination to persevere even under the greatest adversity. Biddy Mason was born during the period of American Slavery and still managed to become one of LA’s wealthiest women and one of the city's first Black real estate moguls. Personally, I relate to her life on several levels, as a mother, an African American and as a woman. Her ability to persist, her concern for her family and the way in which she valued and served her community are all sources of inspiration, motivation and guidance for me.

Although deeply intertwined, each aspect of her life has distinctive reference points. When Biddy Mason was 30 years old, she followed her master’s wagon and walked more than 1700 miles from Mississippi to Salt Lake City behind a 300-wagon caravan. She eventually moved to California with her master’s family where she spent five years functioning as a midwife, cook and bred livestock. Since California was a “free” state, Biddy Mason courageously petitioned for her freedom and that of her family’s. In an unprecedented decision, the court approved. This was not only a turning point in her life, but also positioned her to have a wide-scale impact in the development of Los Angeles.

Upon gaining her freedom in 1856, Biddy went to work for Dr. John Griffin — one of LA’s prominent physicians — for $2.50 per day. It is commonly believed that working with Dr. Griffin and his associates, and learning about their various enterprises in the city, ignited an interest in Billy to become a landowner. After saving for a decade, she bought her first piece of property in downtown Los Angeles. She would continue to purchase the majority of her land in what would later become the financial district of downtown. Biddy managed to learn the importance of land ownership and translate that understanding into a solid financial foundation for her family despite being unable to read and write. Before her death, she amassed a real estate fortune of $300,000 by 1891 (more than $8 million in 2019 dollars).

Using the wealth she amassed, Biddy became an incredible philanthropist and used her wealth to serve and benefit early Angelinos, in particular to Black communities in the city. She began an orphanage in her home, created the first Black elementary school, as well as the first African Methodist Episcopal church in Los Angeles. Her constant visits to prisons to feed and treat inmates, creation of a traveler’s aid center and having an open-door policy at her home are all testament to her dedication to community.

Biddy is a Los Angeles treasure and a pioneer worth celebrating. Biddy’s legacy is a modern-day example of embodying Black excellence in your daily life. Her ability to push through adversity is a constant reminder that tough times don't last forever, but tough people do. Despite the fact that we live in polarized times and that our mere existence is a threat to others, we must continue to stand up for justice and a more equitable society for our brothers and sisters.

Come join us for our two-day celebration on August 15 and August 17 to commemorate the life and legacy of Biddy Mason. As we celebrate her 201st birthday this year, we are reminded that her story is timeless — a story about unwavering hope, love for community and resistance.

To learn more about this event and Biddy Mason, please click here.

This piece was brought to you by The Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation and Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation – Los Angeles.